We stood next to Ray, the ghost tour guide from Afterlife Tours, as he clicked the link on his tablet so we could hear a snippet of an EVP, or an electronic voice phenomenon, recorded at one of the area’s haunted homes; we heard, through the static, the growly words, “Get out.”
This was an evening ghost tour, on foot, one of many given throughout Savannah, Georgia. We were standing outside the gates of, what else, a city cemetery. Ray then clicked on another link, and we watched the figure of a small child, in a grainy black and white video, run along the cemetery pathways and then poof, the small figure took flight and disappeared into sky. Was it our eyes playing tricks on us? Maybe…maybe not.
The Foley House, a Haunted Bed and Breakfast
We were in, after all, the most haunted city in America*. Because of its status as a necropolis which loosely means built over the dead, Savannah is home to not only 146,000 or so residents, but probably hundreds more we can’t see. That status should explain why the ghost tour business is booming with tours on busses, on foot, in a horse and carriage, in a hearse; there are tours in the day, at sunset, or midnight. A clever new combination is the ghost tour and pub crawl which I assume is a way to forget the scary stories of the night over a glass of whiskey. We’re a ghost-obsessed nation as the popularity of cable shows like Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, and Paranormal Caught on Camera prove; take in the fact that the movie Paranormal Activity (2007) was such a money-maker, it spawned six sequels. We just love watching grainy videos of empty rooms hoping to catch an orb, or a black mass; and love being scared, as if the stuff we can see isn’t scary enough.
The Ghost and Gravestones Frightseeing Night Tour Bus
In addition to the walking tour, I also chose the Ghosts & Gravestones Frightseeing Night Bus Tour with a vehicle not hard to spot along Savannah’s riverfront area. This part of the city is a bustling tourist hub with restaurants, souvie shops, and the departure points for the ferries and the Savannah Riverboat Cruise not to mention a busy seaport for really, really large container ships. This 6 p.m. ghost tour ride offered a way to see the city’s glorious grand and centuries-old buildings before night descended and the scariness began. Elaina May was our tour guide, and though dressed in period costume, was expert on the workings of the microphone headset.
The Andrew Low House
First stop was the Andrew Low House, a 19th century mansion located a short ride away. It’s considered one of the city’s architectural treasures, and also the home of Girl Scouts of America founder, Juliette Gordon Low, who lived there after marrying Andrew’s son, William, in 1886. She remained there until her death in 1927 after a long and painful struggle with cancer. Elaina May shared the story of Andrew Low losing his first wife and young son tragically just before moving into the home with staff reporting apparitions dressed in old fashioned clothing, furniture having been moved about, Juliette’s body lying in bed, and Andrew Low himself in the rocking chair.
Creepy Setting Inside the Andrew Low House
Over the course of 90 minutes or so, the bus made a slow ride along the narrow streets, and we were serenaded with stories of murders, suicides, and paranormal experiences in the homes, restaurants, and inns we passed. Hard to believe that Savannah, over the course of just 300 years, had suffered more than its share of death by yellow fever, three wars, famine, slavery and natural disasters. It was, at one time, one big giant cemetery, and as the city began to grow and take shape, the streets and buildings went directly over these graveyards. One notable cemetery, Colonial Park, was established in 1750, but after a portion was taken for streets, any saved tombstones were placed along a back wall. Which gets me thinking that maybe the movie Poltergeist wasn’t too far off.
As further proof, consider the 22** public squares that at first glance show families laying on blankets, couples having lunch, or enjoying a quiet bench to read. But then hear their dark history: Madison Square, for instance, is reported to have been a mass grave for soldiers and has been associated with a solid black shadow; the Reynolds Square is associated with being the site for malaria victims and reports of strange apparitions; and the Wright Square, so inviting, was once the site for city’s gallows and the burial ground for a high-ranking Native American chief.
These stories of murders and suicides in both the wealthy and the lower-class families created a pall that hung over the city for decades until its history was eventually embraced and where it has consistently ranked within the top five U.S. cities to visit. Did I witness glowing red eyes peering out of the bushes, or a rocking chair moving on its own? I did not. However, I didn’t have to. The city is a joy to visit whether you need to get your butter on and visit Paula Deen’s first restaurant (The Lady & Sons) or hunt down the square where Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates waited for the bus, or where the Girl Scouts was founded. It’s also where I held my breath as the humongous container ship slowly passed along the narrow Savannah River, sure it would get stuck as it delivered a fresh cargo of brand-new Porsches and Lamborghinis from across the sea.
With Savannah, like Forrest says, you never know what you’re gonna git.
Photos by MJ Hanley-Goff
Top photo: Hamilton-Turner Inn, immortalized in the novel “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” site of countless reports of paranormal activity.